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By Warren Mabee

Every couple of years, billions of dollars flow into an Olympic host city and its environs for the construction of enormous stadiums, guest hotels and athlete accommodations.

In the past decade, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has emphasized the measures taken to make these projects—and the games themselves—sustainable.

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About 60,000 liters (15,850 gallons) of oil spilled from a pipeline into the Estrela River and spread to Rio de Janeiro's famed Guanabara Bay over the weekend, according to Reuters and local reports.

The pipeline is owned by Transpetro, the largest oil and gas transportation company in Brazil, and a subsidiary of Petroleo Brasileiro (commonly known as Petrobras). Transpetro claims the leak resulted from an attempted robbery.

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By Patrick Byrne and Karen Hudson-Edwards

Nearly five billion people worldwide will use a smartphone by 2020. Each device is made up of numerous precious metals and many of the key technological features wouldn't be possible without them. Some, like gold, will be familiar. Others, such as terbium, are less well-known.

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Aftermath of the 2015 Benito Rodrigues dam disaster in which an iron-ore mining dam failed, leading to Brazil's largest environmental disaster. Senado Federal / Flickr

The activist group Avaaz has launched a petition against the Canadian Belo Sun Mining Company's Volta Grande gold mine in Brazil's Amazon region, claiming that the company is close to getting the permits it needs for the controversial project, MINING.com reported March 30.

The project has already been denied a construction license more than once since 2013 for failing to adequately assess the impact of the mine on nearby indigenous communities, according to MINING.com.

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From doping scandals to security concerns, the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil has been embroiled by one crisis after another—and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

As athletes and hundreds of thousands of tourists around the world descend into Rio de Janeiro, here are seven health and environmental controversies that have already made headlines before the Aug. 5 Opening Ceremony.

The polluted Guanabara bay in Rio where rowing and sailing will be held.Flickr

1. Polluted Waterways

Rio's epic water pollution has been going on for two decades due to a lack of modern sanitation programs. Despite Olympic organizers's promise to clean the city's waterways at their 2009 bid, trash, raw sewage and even body parts have been a presence at water sport venues.

At Guanabara Bay—where rowing and sailing will be held—tons of noxious raw sewage gets pumped into the bay each day. Oceanographer David Zee told CBS News that the Brazilian government planned to install eight treatment plants on Rio's polluted rivers but only built one. Officials promised to treat 80 percent of the sewage flowing into the bay but have gotten to only half. USA Today Sports reported that organizers will use a short-term and (purely cosmetic) water treatment method so the waters will glisten blue for television broadcasts.

In fact, Rio's Olympics will bring none of the environmental improvements that were originally pitched. An official from Brazil's Federal Audit Court, which audits the federal government's spending, told Reuters: "As for now, we have nothing relevant to report about what was done in the environmental area."

2. Super Bacteria

In related news, last year, the Associated Press published its results from an eight-month study of Rio's water venues, concluding that none were safe for swimming or boating, with more than 1 billion viruses from human sewage in a single liter of water from the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake. Water samples were 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.

That leads us to this conundrum. As EcoWatch mentioned last month, antibiotic-resistant super bacteria has been found in waters that will host the swimming portion of the triathlon and in the lagoon where rowing and canoe athletes will be competing. Two studies have connected five beaches—Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Botafogo and Flamengo—and the Rodrigo de Freitas to the superbug bacteria. Scientists say the super bacteria can cause hard-to-treat urinary, gastrointestinal, pulmonary and bloodstream infections, which contribute to death in up to half of infected patients. Meningitis has also been linked to exposure to the superbug.

3. Zika

A number of high-profile athletes, especially golfers, have dropped out of the Summer Games due to Zika fears. The mosquito-borne virus, which has spread throughout the South American country, has been declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization. Some scientists have suggested that global warming is exacerbating the problem, which is linked to microcephaly in babies. Infectious diseases, such Zika and dengue, could spread as aedes aegypti mosquitoes expand their habitats in a warmer, wetter world, one study found. Experts, however, have said that there is little risk of Zika spread. The southern hemisphere is also currently in the middle of winter, making the threat of bites even lower. Still, the epidemic has only further impaired Brazil's struggling public health system, and will continue be a problem when the games conclude.

4. Golf Course Trampling on Nature

Golf's return to the Olympics should have been celebrated. However, not only are some of the sport's biggest stars skipping Rio due to Zika, instead of using the city's two existing golf courses, organizers decided to build a completely new one from scratch. Biologist and environmental activist Marcello Mello told the Guardian that the new course encroaches on the Marapendi reserve, home to rare butterflies, pines and other species not found anywhere else in the world, calling the construction an "environmental crime."

"They are destroying the Atlantic Forest, which is part of our national heritage," he added. Mello also alleges that the city is using the Olympics to help foster business for development companies. "Without a doubt, the Olympics are a giant real estate scam," he said. This is not to mention that thousands of people living in Rio's favelas have been notoriously pushed out of their homes for Olympic construction.

5. Jaguar Killing

Last month, a jaguar—the Brazilian Olympic team's mascot—was shot and killed at the Olympic torch passing ceremony. As EcoWatch reported, the female jaguar was shot after the female jaguar escaped from her handlers, sparking outcry from animal activists.

"Wild animals held captive and forced to do things that are frightening, sometimes painful and always unnatural are ticking time bombs—captivity puts animal and human lives at risk," the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote in a blog post.

Jaguars are a near-threatened species with an estimated 15,000 left in the wild, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

6. Public Transportation Mishaps

When Rio organizers made their bid for the summer games seven years ago, they suggested a number of improvements to ease the city's terrible traffic, which causes severe congestion, noise and air pollution from vehicle exhausts. However, the organizers probably did not anticipate that a crippling recession would affect their plans. The city's government declared a state of financial disaster last month, impacting Olympics-related infrastructure projects.

Rio's new 10-mile rail line, which cost $1.2 billion more than its initial estimate, may not be completed in time before the opening ceremony. A bike lane collapsed in April, killing two people. And according to the Associated Press, the new light rail system suffered a major power outage on the second day of service and the month-old highway near Barra da Tijuca is already damaged with potholes and large cracks.

7. The Danger of Environmental Activism

Protesting any of the environmental or health issues above might be a danger in itself. Brazil happens to be the nation of the highest death toll of environmental activists. Global Witness revealed 50 confirmed murders of environmental activists last year.

"I know there is a risk to this work. It is dangerous to campaign for the environment in Brazil," Mello told the Guardian about his Occupy Golf Campaign. "But I love nature and somebody has to do this job. If I die for this cause, it will be worth it."

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By Nika Knight

A biology professor has simple advice for athletes and tourists descending on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Olympics' start on Friday: "Don't put your head underwater."

Dr. Valerie Harwood, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida, remarked on the dangers posed by Rio's water to AP, which reported Monday that a 16-months-long study revealed that "the waterways of Rio de Janeiro are as filthy as ever, contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria."

Thousands of dead fish float in the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, where the Olympics rowing and canoeing competitions will take place, in 2016.Marcelo Sayao / EPA

The wire service adds that superbugs—bacteria resistant to most forms of antibiotics—were not the only cause for great concern. Shockingly high levels of viruses have alarmed scientists:

[T]he AP investigation found that infectious adenovirus readings—tested with cell cultures and verified with molecular biology protocols—turned up at nearly 90 percent of the test sites over 16 months of testing. "That's a very, very, very high percentage," said [Dr. Harwood]. "Seeing that level of human pathogenic virus is pretty much unheard of in surface waters in the U.S. You would never, ever see these levels because we treat our waste water. You just would not see this."

Swimmers risk serious illness by competing, experts say. "According to a study by the University of Texas School of Public Health, athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water from the contaminated bay in Brazil have a 99 percent chance of being infected," the National Observer noted.

"Dead animals, plastic, garbage and furniture are only a sample of the vile items reported to pollute its waters," the newspaper added "and the athletes competing this August have been told to swim with their mouths closed to avoid contracting serious illness from the water."

The National Post reported: "Untreated hospital waste is the probable cause of waterborne superbacteria, but chemical waste from factories is another culprit. However, the chief reason that Rio's waterways are such a petri dish of contaminants is the torrent of untreated human feces that spews out of open sewers such as one located at the east end of the Guanabara Bay, where it is hemmed in by apartments where many of the city's wealthiest citizens live."

And it is those wealthy denizens who stand to benefit the most from the Olympics, while the region's poorest have been displaced by the tens of thousands, their homes demolished to make room for massive sports stadiums.

An investigation published Monday in The Atlantic by Alex Cuadros detailed the schemes, grafts and bribes that have gone on behind the scenes to construct the Olympics infrastructure, while many of the city's impoverished favela residents are rendered homeless and the region's battered ecosystem is further degraded.

Cuadros wrote, "Contracts for everything from stadium and train-line construction to port renovations have funneled billions of dollars in taxpayer-subsidized revenues to a handful of Brazil's most powerful, well-connected families and their companies." He continued:

[M]ost of the government's Olympic budget has been poured into the wealthy suburb of Barra da Tijuca, home to only 300,000 people. [...]

[A] flood of public money is benefiting the coterie of men who own most of Barra's land. One of them, a 92-year-old billionaire named Carlos Carvalho, controls some 65 million square feet of property in the area. His most famous project for the Olympics is the so-called Athletes' Village. After the games are over, all 31 of the Village's 17-story towers will be transformed into luxury condos featuring multiple swimming pools, tropical gardens and an unobstructed view of Jacarepaguá Lake.

[...] Carvalho is also a partner in construction of the nearby Olympic Park, a sprawling spit of concrete sprinkled with a billion dollars' worth of sporting facilities. Here, the city handed over lakeside land that Carvalho is expected to develop into a whole new neighborhood, once the economy rebounds and demand picks up again.

As scarce as resources are in Brazil, such subsidies are common for well-connected businessmen. But they are no guarantee of quality. For Olympic athletes arriving this month, Carvalho delivered apartments with blocked toilets, leaky pipes, and exposed wiring.

Of all the contradictions between Olympic vision and reality, perhaps the most glaring is in Carvalho's choice of partners, the construction firms Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez. These companies are at the center of the multibillion-dollar corruption scandal that has plunged Brazil into political chaos, and investigators now believe they skimmed bribes from Olympic projects, too. Both companies are cooperating with investigators. As recently as May, Paes surreally claimedthe Olympics were free of corruption, even though his own party is deeply implicated in the wide-ranging bribery scheme.

And the Olympics golf course, Cuadros discovered, was constructed by a wealthy businessman on stolen public lands and in what had formerly been an environmental protection zone where construction was forbidden. The area was deemed no longer a protected zone when a nearby sand-mining operation was found to have "degraded" the ecosystem. The sand-mining operation was owned by the same businessman who built the golf course.

Cuadros also reported that more than 20,000 residents of the city's favelas have been removed, their homes demolished, to make way for roads and Olympics stadiums.

Meanwhile, the weekend before the Olympics' start saw competing protests sweep Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, underscoring the political turmoil gripping the nation. In Rio de Janeiro, protesters ostensibly demonstrated against corruption—but also voiced support for the ruling neoliberal, pro-business elite and called for the impeachment of embattled Workers' Party president Dilma Rousseff.

In São Paulo, a competing rally drew crowds calling for workers' rights and an end to the right-wing takeover of Brazil's federal government.

The Senate is expected to vote on whether to impeach Rousseff in late August.

Last week, protests in Rio were more locally focused: the Brazil chapter of rights group Amnesty International displayed 40 body bags in front of the office of the Local Organizing Committee for the Olympics to draw attention to the city's fatal police shootings, which have increased significantly in the months leading up to the games.

"Since April, Amnesty International has been raising concerns around the increased risk of human rights violations in the context of Rio 2016 Olympics, as it happened before in other mega sporting events such as the 2014 World Cup and the 2007 Panamerican Games," the organization noted. "Since 2009, when Rio won the bid to host the Olympics, more than 2,600 people were killed by the police in the city."

Renata Neder, human rights advisor at Amnesty International, commented: "Brazil failed to learn from past mistakes. In the month of May alone, 40 people were victims of homicides committed by the police, a 135 percent increase in comparison to the same period in 2015. These numbers are unacceptable and compromise the Olympic legacy."

Indeed, as political and environmental turmoil threatens the Rio Olympics, Cuadros observed in The Atlantic that "perhaps the best Olympic legacy that Brazilians can hope for is that the event will serve as a cautionary tale to future generations."

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

The Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics Games highlighted the threats of climate change to nearly 3.3 billion viewers, earning high praise from the climate community worldwide.

A video, narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Judi Dench, explained the spike in the Earth's temperature and the effects of climate change around the world such as rapid ice melt and sea level rise.

A new report from a Brazilian civil society group has found that rising temperatures due to climate change could severely affect the performance of athletes despite the games being held during Brazil's winter.

News: Washington Post, ThinkProgress, Hollywood Reporter, Guardian, Metro, Huffington Post, The Hill, Grist, Sydney Morning Herald

Commentary: LA Times, Charles McNulty column; Forbes, Marshall Shepherd op-ed; BusinessGreen, James Murray column; Sydney Morning Herald, multiple author letters

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.


The whole world held its breath in awe on Friday watching the Opening Ceremony for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. A day later I arrived back in the city that has become my second home while Mayor Eduardo Paes has been C40's chairperson for the last two and a half years. As I sit writing this article while enjoying the extraordinary new space in Porto Maravilha, though many have criticized the city for its Olympic preparations, it's impossible not to be moved by the significance of the first-ever Olympics to be held in South America.

Olympic cities are always criticized while under the world's microscope. Though there are some shortcomings here—mostly in areas that were the responsibility of the state or federal government—it's impossible not to be impressed by the transformation in sustainable transport and public space the mayor has instigated as a direct result of taking on the challenge of hosting the world's single greatest international contest.

The promise of the Olympics has been on the horizon since current C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) Chair and Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes was elected mayor in 2008. He has worked tirelessly throughout the intervening years not only to produce an event worthy of the global stage, but also to invest in and develop long-term legacy projects that will benefit the city and its inhabitants for years to come. Indeed, Mayor Paes has followed the advice of former Barcelona (also a C40 city) mayor and Olympic host Pasqual Maragall: The Olympics must serve the city, not vice versa.

Mayor Paes speaking at a press conference at Paris City Hall with C40 Mayors in 2015.C40 / Flickr

Mayor Paes has stayed true to that principle: For every one real invested in the Olympics, the city has invested five Reais in sustainable infrastructure and legacy projects. The city's ambitions for the Olympics have always been high and under Mayor Paes' leadership it has made powerful and lasting improvements for the city and its people that will endure far beyond when the last athletes have left town.

  • There has been a major expansion of the city's public transit systems, including an incredibly rapid development of bus rapid transit that means the proportion of residents using public transport has risen from under 20 percent to more than 60 percent in just 8 years, a brand new light rail system and more than 450 kilometers of cycle paths (as well as the new subway line, built by the state but for which the mayor has been a major advocate).
  • The city has completed a major renovation and revitalization of the Porto Maravilha, the city's historic birthplace. They redesigned the area in terms of mobility to make it more friendly to human-scale transit—removing the brutalist perimetral highway (indeed the first time I met Mayor Paes he apologized for being late with the excuse that he had been blowing up the very same road), adding a light vehicle tram, closing streets to cars, creating facilities for pedestrians and building the arrestingly beautiful Museum of Tomorrow.
  • Mayor Paes inaugurated the Rio Operations Center, a digital nerve center of the city in which critical services—from waste management to emergency response and traffic control—are monitored to improve the city's efficiency and emergency response. It is a model that has captured the attention of other cities across the world.
  • Though the failure to clean up the Guanabara Bay—which has been a contentious location in the lead-up to the games—falls outside the jurisdiction of the Mayor, the city has invested in a new West Zone Wastewater Treatment Plant that will benefit 430,000 people and treat 65 million liters of sewage that would otherwise be dumped in the bay. This is another fulfilled Olympic commitment and it brings better quality of life for thousands of people.
  • More than 70 percent of Olympic facilities were built by converting existing structures and some Olympic venues, like the Handball Stadium, are designed to be converted into community projects, like public schools, after the games.

Hosting an Olympics Games is no mean feat for any mayor, but it is particularly challenging when taking into consideration the political and economic turmoil Brazil has been facing over the past 12 months. Rather than criticizing what has not been done in Rio (and there are still many areas that require improvement and investment), those who care about sustainability should be praising Mayor Paes for delivering an impressive raft of infrastructure improvements, while the rest of the country has been at a virtual standstill.

Moreover, in addition to his job as mayor, Mayor Paes has also been the energetic chair of C40 since December 2013 and has been instrumental to engaging more than 20 new member cities from China, India, the Philippines, Africa and the Middle East, such that we now have a majority of members from the global south.

Under his leadership, Mayor Paes and C40 joined partners in launching the Compact of Mayors, creating a new global standard for urban emissions reporting and creating a program of effective "city determined commitments" to mirror the INDCs being pledged by nation states. Mayor Paes led from the front and Rio became the first city to be compliant with the Compact of Mayors. Rio was also the first Brazilian city to complete a study of its climate vulnerabilities and has mandated emissions cuts of 20 percent by 2020.

It has also been through Mayor Paes' personal leadership that we have created the C40 Finance Facility, to address the the startling omission of most of the world's green funds to finance city government's low carbon projects. Starting from initial generous support from the German government, Mayor Paes aims for the facility to unlock up to $1 billion worth of sustainable infrastructure in cities across low and middle-income countries by 2020.

In part because of Mayor Paes' leadership, Latin America is a focal point for city climate action this year: C40 is looking forward to hosting our flagship event, the C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico City at the end of November. Mexico City Mayor Mancera and Mayor Paes will host this gathering where mayors, urban experts, business people and celebrities from around the world will come together to continue positioning cities as a leading force for climate action around the world.

It is with extreme gratitude that we at C40 thank Mayor Paes for his leadership and passion. And is with great excitement that today in Rio we announced the new C40 chair: Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

From left to right: Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro and Chair of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris.C40 / Flickr

The C40 Steering Committee voted unanimously to elect Mayor Hidalgo, who has maintained a steadfast commitment to urban sustainability throughout her tenure thus far, emphasizing walkability in Paris, spearheading calls to better air quality across Europe and hosting the Climate Summit for Local Leaders alongside the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris last December. She will be an inspiring champion for city voices around the world, leading by example as the C40 chair-elect. She will take over from Mayor Paes after the C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico City later this year.

It is no coincidence, too, that Paris is currently bidding to host the 2024 Olympics, more than half of the cities that have hosted the Olympics are also C40 member cities. And, given that the International Olympic Committee has outlined a commitment to a sustainable future, it's no surprise that C40's member cities—which represent the most powerful and innovative cities in the world—are not only great places to live, work and prosper, but are also make supremely competent Olympic hosts.

Mayor Paes has been an exceptional leader for the last several years and Rio has set an example for other cities around the world seeking a clean development pathway. We look forward to Mayor Hidalgo carrying that charge forward for the critical years to come.

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As cities in the developing world continue to grow, so do their traffic safety concerns. Latin America, for instance, now sees three times as many deaths from traffic crashes as Europe, the vast majority of which occur in cities. Vulnerable road users are particularly at risk: Older pedestrians and cyclists can account for up to 45 percent of pedestrian fatalities and up to 70 percent of cyclist fatalities globally.

Improving developing cities’ traffic safety is a critical task for ensuring that these growing urban centers become safe, equitable places to live. A key part of achieving this safety? Sustainable urban design.

In Rio de Janeiro, proximity to transport is key to ensuring that residents have access to jobs and opportunities within the city. Photo Credit: EMBARQ-Brazil

The connection between safety and justice is a major theme of the upcoming World Urban Forum (WUF7), organized by UN-HABITAT, which this year focuses on “urban equity in development—cities for life.” At the event, EMBARQ experts will host a Cities Safer by Design for All networking session. The event will convene key experts and explore ways that urban design can improve safety—and in turn, justice—in developing cities around the world.

At the Intersection of Safety, Justice and Urban Design

Disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted by shortsighted urban design choices, whether it’s the poor—who are forced to live on the city’s periphery—or the disabled, who face mobility obstacles every day. Smart urban design principles can improve these citizens’ quality of life while also boosting a city’s overall safety.

For example, implementing urban design principles like transit-oriented development (TOD), which encourage mixed commercial and residential land use, compact layout, access to high-quality mass transport, and pedestrian-friendly streets, is an important step towards creating livable cities for all communities. Cities built in this way provide opportunities for walking, bicycling, and using transport instead of relying on a car—an expense many cannot afford. Furthermore, promoting sustainable urban design components like bike lanes and pedestrian walkways can have significant traffic safety benefits through reducing exposure—such as by preventing the need for vehicle travel altogether—and risk—by limiting vehicle speeds and prioritizing pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

Connecting urban design to safety is a concept that’s still under-utilized by most local officials and even urban planners. But some cities are beginning to emerge as leaders in this space:

Mexico City, Mexico

In order to combat its history of urban sprawl, Mexico City is enhancing its sustainable transport systems and revitalizing public spaces. The newest corridor of the Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system took a complete streets approach, which aims to design streets that account for all road users, providing safe infrastructure for transport, cars, cyclists and pedestrians. One shining example of the transformation along Avenida Eduardo Molina is the city’s decision to change a dangerous and confusing intersection design that forced cars and buses to switch from the right side of the road to the left at the stoplight. EMBARQ research finds that streets with such confusing designs, called counter-flow intersections, have 82 percent more severe and fatal crashes than other streets.

Mexico City has also introduced new “pocket parks” or “parklets,” which repurpose street space previously allotted to cars to create new public spaces for socialization and interaction. These spaces help to calm traffic, reduce street-crossing distances for pedestrians, and provide protected areas for recreation. The city has built five in the last year, and expects to build as many as 150 in the coming years.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

As a host to both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro is using these mega events as a catalyst to make significant improvements to its design. One of Rio’s flagship projects is the Morar Carioca initiative, which pledges $ 3.76 billion to improve accessibility, health, education, and the environment in the city’s favelas.

Favelas pose an interesting challenge for city officials, as they house the city’s poorest residents and are often cut off from city services. Furthermore, EMBARQ Brazil’s household travel survey revealed that 90 percent of residents travel on foot while inside favelas, yet 70 percent use public transport when outside favelas. In short, proximity to transport is key to ensuring that these residents have access to jobs and opportunities within the city.

With this in mind, Morar Carioca is the one of the first favela improvement initiatives in Rio to emphasize connecting these communities to the city via new BRT lines like the TransCarioca, which will also connect the core of the city to the Olympic Village in 2016. Systems like TransCarioca will provide vital access to jobs and opportunities in the city center and help ensure that favela residents are not cut off from the benefits of urban life.

Bangalore, India

Plans for a Bangalore plaza and station prioritize safe access to transportation for a growing population. Rendering credit: EMBARQ-INDIA

Bangalore is one of the fastest-growing cities in India, with almost 10 million residents. The majority of this population relies on public transport—most notably bus and metro—for mobility, so it’s imperative that these services meet the needs of all residents. Bangalore, like many Indian cities, is also home to many making a living through the informal economy—such as street vendors and auto-rickshaw drivers—who rely on pedestrian traffic and transit hubs to make their living. While Bangalore’s bus and metro stations are hubs of economic activity, they are also currently hubs of congestion and chaos. Previous attempts to ease congestion and improve safety around these areas have privileged cars over pedestrians and transport users. They’ve also squelched the informal economy, harming the city’s poorest residents.

To reverse this trend, EMBARQ India is working with local authorities to make transport hubs safer for cars, cyclists, and pedestrians while retaining the vitality of the informal economic sector. New station area plans for Bangalore’s Namma Metro prioritize safe access to transport hubs and reorganize public space around these hubs. The redesigned stations promote safer links to other transport modes like auto-rickshaws and buses, provide space for vendors, and improve the quality of the public space and public transit experience for all. With the plans now under development, city officials intend to implement the new station designs over the next two years, improving accessibility and safety in some of the most crowded parts of the city.

Putting Urban Design and Safety on the International Agenda

It’s time to change the narrative about urban design. It’s not about building more roads or luxury apartment complexes; it’s about creating cities that are safer, more livable and healthier for a growing number of residents. As this year’s WUF7 tagline explains, “A safe city is a just and equitable city.”

Discussions at the WUF7 can play an important role in shifting the urban design narrative. While the week-long conference emphasizes civil society participation, the official dialogues will feed into the ongoing discussions of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, clarifying issues related to urban prosperity. These include such broad topics as sustainable cities and human settlements, infrastructure, and economic growth. The WUF7 presents an opportunity for organizations from around the world to insert real examples, bring this agenda to life, and explicitly tie equity to the urban development narrative. In short, the WUF7 discussions are a key way of ensuring that safe and equitable cities are a first-level objective of the U.N.’s emerging SDGs, which are set to be released in 2015.

Every minute of every day, new cities are being built and existing cities are constantly evolving. Smart design can help ensure that these cities are built for people—not cars.

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Waging Nonviolence

By Peter Rugh

Monica posing with employees of the Department of Sanitation who are having their workplace turned upside down from Spectra nosing its way into our city. Photos by Erik McGregor.

A hard rain was falling on Monday night as Occupy the Pipeline activists spread out along New York’s Hudson River Park, in front of the site where workers in orange day-glow vests have been laboring around the clock on the New Jersey-New York Expansion Project. Known colloquially by the name of its builder, Spectra Energy, the Spectra Pipeline will pump fuel hydraulically-fracked from Pennsylvania’s gas fields into New York City.

The very real risk of explosion along the densely populated regions through which the pipeline passes have made local residents want nothing to do with the project, as evidenced by letters submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during the pipeline’s approval process. Only 22 of the 5,000 letters were in favor of the project.

The Spectra Pipeline is just one of a new breed of high pressure pipelines being built around the country to expand the gas market to meet the increasing output of U.S. shale production. According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Oct. 18, 2011, Spectra Energy entered into a $1.5 billion revolving credit agreement with the likes of JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Through what’s known as a syndicated loan, Wall Street infused Spectra with capital and spread the financial risk around, while leaving the risk of possible explosion for local residents to bear.

On Oct. 15, Occupy the Pipeline activists wrapped themselves in yellow caution tape as they stood in front of the pipeline construction site. They had black-and-white skeleton makeup on their faces—representing, they said, the danger of fossil fuels turning humans into fossils—which was bleeding down their chins because of the rain. The tape woven around the bodies of those on the line served as a symbol of interconnectivity.

“We are all connected through a web of toxic pipelines,” Occupy the Pipeline organizer Monica Hunken cried out through the people’s microphone, “but we are also connected by a vision for safe and sustainable world.”

Seeing their local fight against Spectra as a microcosm of a broader battle, Occupy the Pipeline put out a call several weeks earlier for those opposing America’s fossil fuel beef-up to join them in a day of action. In Texas, activists who have been carrying out direct actions against the Keystone XL didn’t need much prodding. On #O15, as the date has been called, 50 people stood in the way of the pipeline that NASA climate scientist James Hansen has told the New York Times means “game over” in the fight against climate change.

Michele, Dave, Maureen (from CARP-Coalition Against the Rockaway Pipeline), Kim & Monica holding the signs. Photos by Erik McGregor.

The Keystone XL is designed to bring heavy crude oil from a deforested region in Alberta, Canada, to export markets along America’s Gulf Coast. After more than 1,000 people were arrested sitting-in at the White House against the pipeline in the summer of 2011, and thousands formed a ring around the White House last November, President Barack Obama announced in January he was nixing approval of the pipeline until after the 2012 election. Quietly, however, his administration gave the go-ahead for construction of the XL’s southern portion.

During a stump speech in Cushing, Oklahoma—a town known as the “Pipeline Capital of the World”—Obama disputed claims that he was a softhearted environmentalist. “We’ve built enough pipeline to encircle the earth and then some,” he told the Cushing crowd. Writing at Grist, shortly after Obama’s Department of the Interior issued four coal mining leases for the Powder River Basin in 2011, Glenn Hurowitz summed up the president’s “all of the above” energy policy as “effectively using modest wind and solar investments as cover for a broader embrace of dirty fuels.” It’s a trick straight out of BP or Chevron’s playbook, writes Hurowitz, to “tout modest environmental investments in multi-million dollar PR campaigns, while putting the real money into fossil fuel development.” But these days Obama does not appear to be playing down his enthusiasm for coal, gas and oil.

While the U.S. under Obama’s leadership is deepening its reliance on fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions have led the climate and the human race along with it into what Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), calls “uncharted territory.” Data collected by Serreze and fellow researchers in September shows that 1.32 million square miles of arctic ice cover withered away over the summer, more than in any year previously on record. The team had anticipated a record melt, but the scope of this year’s de-icing far exceeded its expectations. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up,” reported Serreze, “few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.”

Fortunately for those concerned about the impact of fossil fuels on the biosphere, opposition to the escalating rate of ecological devastation has entered “uncharted territory” as well. In what has been termed a “Summer of Solidarity,” actions against ecological devastation took place in numerous regions across the U.S.

More than 50 blockaders risked arrest to stop Keystone XL construction in Texas and bring attention to TransCanada’s repression of journalists attempting to cover the blockaders’ side of the story.

As thousands marched in the first national rally against fracking in Washington, D.C., 50 people walked onto the country’s largest mountaintop removal site in West Virginia and shut it down. Union workers locked out of the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts, picketed beside environmentalists. In New York, Occupy the Pipeline challenged Spectra through sit-ins and lockdowns, while Puerto Rican activists battled (and halted) a natural gas pipeline through a campaign in which both islanders and the mainland diaspora took part.

Actions in the U.S. were inspired by bold and brazen acts of ecological defiance globally including the occupation of the massive Bela Monte Dam in Brazil’s rainforest by indigenous tribes amidst the Rio+20 climate conference and a weeklong blockade of the Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia. All the while in Texas, lockdowns and tree-sits against Keystone XL took off one after another.

In Massachusetts, where Spectra Energy is attempting to soup up the Algonquin Gas Transmission line, activists with 350.org and the Better Futures Project met the #O15 call with a tree-sit near Boston. They held banners reading, “TransCanada, You Shall Not Win” and “In Unity With @KXLBlockade & @occupy_pipeline.”

“We leave the 'Summer of Solidarity' with friends still sitting in tree tops, with the direct actions of thousands still reverberating, and we enter the 'Autumn of Unity,'” Monica Hunken told the soggy crowd back in New York. As the effects of climate change become more acute Hunken expressed hope that those resisting it will forge stronger ties with one another.

During Occupy Wall Street’s anniversary weekend in New York, I spoke to Sam Rubin, an anti-fracking activist from Ohio who was in town to storm the Stock Exchange. Then, last Sunday, Rubin and comrades blockaded a fracking site in eastern Ohio, ahead of the #O15 day of action. While in New York last month, Rubin told me that he hails from an area outside of Cleveland hit hard by the recession, where U.S. Steel recently reopened a plant for the first time in two years.

“For these guys to be coming back to work is a huge deal for them,” Rubin said. “They are making steal for pipelines to build-up the fracking infrastructure.” Rubin is part of an emerging breed of environmental activists who see their ecological activism as part of a broader movement for social change. As he and other activists draw on the solidarity fermented over the summer, Rubin said it is import to see their ecological struggles within the pervasive framework of global capitalism, “a system based on growth and extraction for profit fundamentally dependent on human exploitation.”

“Otherwise” added Rubin, “I’m just some guy in a bubble who only cares about my little issue.”

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